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It's time to make a place for John Capel in the Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame

I bring this up because a few people in Brooksville seem to have let it slip their minds:

John Capel was an Olympian and a distinguished one at that, posting the fastest 200-meter qualifying time at the 2000 games in Sydney.

Even more people apparently have forgotten that he twice won gold at the 2003 World Track and Field Championships — in the 200-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay.

He wasn't a bad football player, either, gaining more than 1,200 yards in his senior season as a high school running back, though it was at his part-time position, wide receiver, that he was named to Parade magazine's 1997 all-America team.

He won national track titles in both high school and at the University of Florida. And I should add, because in these parts this is sometimes regarded as the ultimate athletic accomplishment, he was also a Southeastern Conference champ.

It's a legacy that people in Brooksville — in the entire county, really — should be proud of.

Yet, strangely, we aren't.

At least that's the way it looks from the membership of the Hernando High School Sports Hall of Fame, for which the 2013 class was recently announced — a class that, for the fourth time, does not include Capel.

Because each class consists of eight members, male and female, the selection committee has now decided that there are 32 athletes more deserving than Capel.

Which is ridiculous.

Nothing against the ball players and runners who made the hall this year, but most of their accomplishments are local — they set school records, they helped lead teams to state championships.

Capel not only made it to the very top level of his sport, but excelled there, which puts him in a class with former NFL star Jerome Brown, veteran Major League Baseball pitcher Bronson Arroyo and, perhaps, one or two others.

Though it's blasphemy to say it around here, Capel might be on an even higher plane. Nobody else in the hall can say they were the best in the world.

Is his being snubbed really such a big deal? Maybe not.

If he had to choose between his world championship gold and membership in a high school hall of fame, I believe I could guess his decision.

But Capel, who now lives in Spring Hill, grew up in Brooksville. Hall membership is a measure of how he's regarded in his old hometown. And though Capel sometimes says this doesn't hurt, other times it's obvious that it does.

"What did I do that was so bad that one of the greatest athletes that ever came out of this town is the butt end of all their jokes?" he asks.

The ballots are secret, so it's hard to know the answer, but here are a few possibilities.

He's not buddies with anybody on the selection committee, which can help. Some inductees got in because committee members compiled their accomplishments and pitched their case.

Capel blew his chance at the Olympic gold medal, standing up at the gun because he'd flinched and falsely assumed he would be called for a false start. He found that the people who had gathered on the lawn of the old county courthouse to send him off to Sydney weren't so eager to share his disappointment when he returned.

More serious was the way he undermined the rest of his sports career. He was charged with possession of marijuana in 2001 and tested positive for marijuana before that year's NFL combine, which caused him to plummet in the draft, and before the 2004 Olympics, which got him bounced from a relay team.

More serious still, he was charged with battery for punching his adult niece in 2007 — a charge that later was dropped.

If this is what is holding him back, I'd like to point out that it's been a while since he was in trouble, and I wonder if any of the committee members would have turned up a positive result for marijuana had they been tested in their 20s as often as a world-class sprinter.

It's also worth noting that Capel was caught using drugs that detracted from his performance, not — like so many others in the track world — that enhanced it.

And if no one on the committee can tell you how he's grown since his career ended, I will.

Capel, 34, is raising four children with his wife, Sandy, who has been his sweetheart since middle school and was last year's Teacher of the Year candidate from Brooksville Elementary School.

He has started an organization called Diamond in the Rough, to offer free athletic training to young people in Spring Hill.

For the past four years, he has worked at Oak Hill Hospital, where he monitors the vital signs of patients in the emergency room. And when CEO Mickey Smith took me on a public relations tour a couple of months ago, he stopped to talk to a few star employees, and one of them was Capel, whom he spoke of in glowing terms.

Finally, remember that this is a hall of fame for sports, not citizenship. And surely, among all those very good athletes, there has to be room for a great one.

It's time to make a place for John Capel in the Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame 08/13/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:12pm]
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